Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Chawan Mushi

When I was a kid, my mom would occasionally serve a dish that I loved to look at, loved to dig my spoon into, but didn't actually like to eat.  Fortunately for my mom, I could be convinced to eat foods that were interesting even if I didn't like the taste.  Fortunately for me, my taste buds finally caught up.

This dish is called Chawan Mushi - it's a savory egg custard, typically served with chunks of seafood buried in soft silky custard - the most difficult part is not burning your mouth on it as you inhale it.

That said, I'm pretty sure my mom would say I'm doing it weird, but once I started playing with the custard, I couldn't help tweaking the ingredients.  So here's the tweaked original version, I'm toying with dessert versions - I'll get back to you on that.

It's might seem a little more complicated than it really is, because there are some practical things you need to do to get the texture right, but it's really pretty simple to make.

Prepare a steaming tray/pot, and several heat proof dishes, this recipe yields four servings at about a cup each, but using smaller dishes (ramekins for example) could yield 6 to 8 servings as an appetizer.

The dashi broth is the key here - I specify dashi broth, because you can purchase dashi in powder form to reconstitute with warm water - but you need the volume of the two cups of liquid to make the custard.

You can make a traditional dashi stock using dried bonito flakes and konbu - large pieces of seaweed, which can be found in Japanese grocery stores.  Bring a couple of cups of water to a boil with the konbu, you'll start to notice a heady aroma coming from the pot, then remove the large pieces and set aside.  Add the dried bonito flakes to hot water, letting it steep like tea, then strain.  The resulting clear broth is your dashi.

Alternately you can use dashi powder - I tried both ways myself, and found that a combination of the two (steeping the flakes then adding a little powdered dashi) resulted in the best flavor - the broth should be a little strong as you'll be adding egg to the mixture.  An alternative would be to use chicken stock, or beef or vegetable stock - really any clear broth, boiled down a bit to strengthen the flavor.

Chawan mushi is known for it's earthy flavors, so when making the broth, I like to add the sliced Shitake which lends a nice robust flavor to the broth - if you happen to have Porcini mushroom powder, I'd add that too - yum!  If you add sliced mushrooms, you'll want to strain them out so you can measure the liquid - just run it through a sieve and set aside the mushrooms and stock in separate  dishes.

Make the dashi stock in advance, and set it aside - you can even put it in the fridge to cool, it needs to be cool enough not to scramble the eggs when you mix everything up.  You're aiming for room temperature or near it.
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 cups dashi (broth style)
  • 2 to 3 small shitake mushrooms, finely sliced
  • 8 prawns (or scallops, or crab stick - I didn't have seafood the first time so I used sliced chicken, soft tofu would probably be redundant, but one of those fried/baked/smoked/grilled tofu steaks is delish!) 
  • Ginko nuts (if you have them)
  • Shiso leaves (a chiffonade works best - fancy word for clever slicing up)
In a small pot, parboil the prawns (or chicken or whatever you're using), I like to add soy sauce to the water for the boil just to season it.  Pull the prawns out of the water and set aside, pour the water into the pot you're going to use to steam the custards (extra step - totally unnecessary but I like to add every bit of flavor I can.).

Crack the eggs into a good sized bowl and blend them - gently - you want to incorporate them thoroughly , without creating bubbles or adding air to them.  Slowly stir in your dashi broth.

In the bottom of the serving/cooking dishes, divide up the prawns, mushrooms from the broth, and ginko nuts - you can get creative adding things here, tomorrow I'm thinking of trying a version with bacon or pork belly...

Divide the egg mixture evenly into each dish, and cover the top with plastic wrap.  Set your steamer on medium heat, and place your dishes in the steamer.

Now walk away - it'll take 15 to 20 min for a one cup dish of custard to cook through,  slightly less for smaller dishes.  You can tell the custard is cooked when you tap the edges of the dish and the liquid no longer runs.

Garnish it with a bit of Shiso chiffonade - take several clean dry shiso leaves (you can get them in Japanese grocery stores) stack them up, and roll them, then slice them thinly - it'll result in ribbons of shiso (also a great technique to have in your pocket for basil and other leafy herbs).  Shiso looks like this;

Chiffonade looks like this;

You can serve these hot or cooled, personally I can't wait long enough for them to cool and my mouth is currently all kinds of burnt.

I'm fussing with a dessert version now -since you can effectively make these low carb and low sugar, I'm thinking some vanilla maybe cinnamon.... like a low carb creme brulee!  Anyhow I'll get back on this one

Monday, August 23, 2010

Yep, I'm a carnivore.

Yesterday, I wandered into Whole Paycheck - that is Whole Foods, on Union Square, in search of some motivation for dinner.  Something I'd want to eat this week.  And I found it- they had these Rib Eye SLABS, they were passing off as steak in the butcher department.  I mean face-sized slabs of aged beef with beautiful marbling.... Really.  look;

If you're a carnivore like me, how are you supposed to resist this?  What you can't see in this photo, is that it's about 2 inches thick - cut funny, admittedly - I mean did we have to go diagonally across nearly three ribs?  But who cares??!!  This is a steak for steak eaters...

I dunno about you, but I've f'ed up steak before.  No really - I've yanked it off the stove to find there's no pink on the inside, or found it to be charred outside and still moving inside - I've had a challenge finding the perfect medium rare.... but tonight - I did it!!  And I thought I should share HOW it was done, in hopes that I can replicate it...so here goes

Oven to 450 - use a cast iron pan for this - really, there is no substitute for this at all - and place the pan in the oven to warm while you prep.
  • One big fat steak.  Big, and fat - find a proper butcher, there IS one in your area, you just have to find them.  Grocery store cuts of meat are going to cook too fast and won't yield the kind of results you want for this no way no how...
  • Bulb of garlic - this will come out buttery and soft, you can eat it, smear it on bread, or toss it if you're not a fan of garlic, but it adds flavor to the steak
  • Shallot - one big fat whole one
  • Butter - I used fresh home made butter, which lent a creamy taste that was way more than I expected and may have lent to inhaling of the steak
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

To prep the steak, take it out of the fridge and set it out for about 30 min to bring it to room temp.  Sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper and let it rest.

Peel garlic and shallots - my favorite technique for peeling garlic involves smashing cloves with the flat side of a knife - it magically loosens the paper thin skins and allows it to release the flavor without tedious slicing and mincing.  Slice the peeled shallots in half - long or short way, no matter, they're getting roasted too!

Set the garlic and shallots aside and get ready to cook - pull the pan out of the oven (leave the oven on) and place it on the stove top on high heat.  Pour in a splash of olive oil and a chunk of butter - I never said this would be a low calorie dish...let the oils and fats heat up real good.

Place your steak in the hot pan, and don't touch it.  Seriously leave it alone for 2 - 3 min - no peeking nothing.  Grab a pair of tongs and flip it over and do the same again on the other side - again 2 - 3 min.  Sprinkle the shallots and garlic across the entire pan, add another chunk of butter and slide the whole thing into the oven.

Walk away - for about 6 to 8 min.  You'll hear crackling, and sizzling, and you'll smell the garlic and you're going to leave it alone.  Remember, shorter times for thinner cuts, mine was a little over 2 inches, and it went for 7 min.  This is the result;

Pleasantly pink, still a little cool in the center, nice caramelizing on the outside....if you're a steak eater, you're drooling now. I ate this with a side of lightly sautéed spinach that I tossed with the roast garlic from the steak pan.  It pairs nicely with a robust salad as well - something with hearty greens like romaine and a nice red - I'm working my way through a bottle of lambrusco at the moment...


Stove top grilled shrimp

I have to preface this by saying - normally, I don't advocate purchasing specialty cookware.  I know I mentioned the slow cooker in a previous post, but that's because it was on sale for $19.95 - that was more of a favor than a "you-gotta-have-one-of-these."

But this little fish griller from the Japanese market - I think of this as more of a kitchen necessity, source of many of my favorite dishes growing up.    (they're called yaki ami)

My mom used to use this thing to grill fish, roast mochi, cook enoki mushrooms... all manner of yummy right on top of the stove.  Also works great for roasting peppers, tomatos and veggies.  I picked this one up at Sunrise Mart in the East Village, but I'm sure this or something just like it can be found in many Asian markets. It should run somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 to 25 dollars, some even have legs that will raise it up higher from the flame.

Older versions were a bit harder to keep clean and necessitated replacement on a fairly regular basis, (I think we had one early on that had an asbestos plate on the bottom...) but this version disassembles relatively easily (OK there are parts that maybe shouldn't have come off, but they did, and they snapped back on reasonably easily so I'm going with it.)

The first thing I cooked on this were a couple of massive shrimp (the one's above are parked on a full size dinner plate with a one inch border) I found at Grand Central Market, if cooking smaller versions, consider putting them on skewers which have been soaked in water.  This is a great way to bring the taste of outdoor open flame cooking indoors (to your tiny NYC apartment).

Make sure your stove top is clean and free of grease - I realize this sounds obvious but worth mentioning as a grease fire could really put a damper on dinner.

  • 2 - 3 massive shrimp/prawns - I found these Gulf of Mexico monsters at the Grand Central Market, each one was a good 8 inches from end to end, not including the antennae
  • 1 dollop of  Miso paste (roughly one tbsp per shrimp) type of miso is completely a matter of taste - I like aka miso (red miso) or awase miso (white and red combined) but really just a matter of taste.
  • 1/4 cup of water
  • Sesame oil

In a small bowl, mix the miso paste, with the water - adding the water in small measures until you  get an emulsified paste similar in texture to hand lotion.  Slightly lumpy hand lotion...

Dip the shrimp - shells and heads on - into the paste.  It's important to leave the shells and head on or you'll find the shrimp become inedible due to the saltiness of the miso - I don't care HOW much you like salt, it's too salty. Coat thoroughly, sprinkle with sesame oil and set in the refrigerator for 20 to 30 min to marinate.

Dip a paper towel into sesame oil and lightly coat the grill top - be careful not to get oil on the pan closest to the flame, or you'll have smoked shrimp and not in a good way.  Preheat grill over high for 3 to 4 min, then turn heat down to medium/ medium high.

Remove the shrimp from the refrigerator and place directly on to the grill - depending on the size of the shrimp, they should take about 2 to 4 min on each side.  Don't be alarmed if the shells start to char, it only adds to the flavor.  Try not to over cook then shrimp, as most varieties can get rubbery if over cooked.

Serve whole with mixed greens topped with carrot miso dressing (recipe coming soon)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Brucie's Biscuits

In an effort to score auntie points with my favorite four legged pal, this entry is dedicated to the blatant bribery of Bruce Beauchamp.  

Crunchy Dog Biscuits
·         2 large eggs
·         1 tbsp honey
·         1 tbsp vegetable oil
·         1 1/2 tbsp peanut butter
·         3/4 cup chicken stock
·         3 cups whole wheat flour
·         1/2 multi-grain cereal mix (mine has oats and barley and all kind of good whole grains)

Please note, while I'm a huge fan of substituting ingredients, in this particular instance please use caution - avoid unnecessary salt and sugar, no chocolate (doggie poison) and stick to natural ingredients (for example the oatmeal that comes in little packets in a box is not a good idea - steal cut natural Irish oatmeal with no additives, great idea)  Get it?

Whisk together eggs, honey, vegetable oil, peanut butter, and chicken stock till blended and the peanut butter and honey have emulsified

Whisk in a cup of the flour first, till well blended, then add another cup - the dough will start to get sticky.  Switch to a spoon or spatula (trust me, soooo much easier to handle and clean). 

Using a spatula/spoon, mix in the remaining flour and the cereal - at one point or another I usually give up and turn the mess out onto a board sprinkled with a little whole wheat flour to finish incorporating the ingredients.  
Knead until a dense,stiff dough forms. 

Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for one hour (ish).

Put a rack in the lowest part of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Roll out the dough to
1/4″ – 1/2″ thick and cut into bone shapes or disc shapes. Use a fork to prick holes in the
middle of each biscuit or use a chopstick to poke 'monograms' into the discs. 

Place on parchment lined sheets and bake, one sheet at a time, on the
lowest rack in the oven. 
Bake 15 minutes then flip them over and bake for another 10
The biscuits will get even crisper as they cool

Feed them to your fav. four legged buddies!
This batch is for my pal Bruce;

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Miso Mussels!

I used to hate mussels.  Really - couldn't stand eating them, hated the occasional gritty one... but I've totally changed my mind!!

There's a dozen ways to do them, this is the way that I like based on the random things I had in my fridge.  I usually keep a tub of miso paste in my fridge, and sesame oil and mirin in the cupboard.

Mussels - most markets around here split them into one or two pound packages, just make sure you have a pot big enough to fit them and cover with a lid.
Leeks - one fat one ought to do it
Splash of Mirin
Splash of Sesame oil
Dollop of miso - more or less to taste, (again Dr.'s orders to watch my sodium intake, so my broth was on the light side) dissolved in whatever liquid you're using to cook the mussels
Water - or vegetable or chicken stock, both of which add more flavor to the final soup, depending on the size of your pot, you'll need a couple of cups

Slice the leeks diagonally into fat slices (around half to 3/4 of an inch). I like to use the whole thing, but many people only use the white and light green parts, tossing the dark green leafy bits.
Wash the mussels - give them a good rinse, pull off any beards still stuck on there, make sure the water runs clear - this ensure you can drink the cooking broth later.  You will NOT be disappointed...

On your stove top, put the mussels in a pot, add the liquefied miso along with the cooking broth and mirin - the liquid doesn't need to cover the mussels, half way is sufficient.
Turn the heat on to high just long enough for the brew to start to boil, then immediately turn down to medium.
allow to simmer until all the mussels are open.

IMPORTANT:  discard any mussels that don't open up - that's a sure sign of old or bad shellfish!

Slow cooker on sale for 19 dollars? Oxtails please!

I went into Macy's thinking I wanted to replace my George Foreman Grill.  Anyone familiar with my cooking obsession knows I'm a big advocate of this thing.  As I was wandering around the heavenly area called the cellar, I stumbled across a find I would never have guessed....a crockpot.  For 19 bucks.

My last crockpot was at least ten dollars more, was way smaller and after years of use lost the handle on the lid and had a brown haze that can't be scrubbed out.  For 19 bucks?  It's time to replace it.

So I brought it home, and let  it sit on the floor for a couple days while I contemplated what to do with it.  It's summer, not exactly crock pot season.  But I love these things because it's really all about being liberal and combining flavors rather than recipes.  

The Flavor Bible, which is a great book that helps me pair seasonings and flavors with food suggests flavors like allspice, anise, bay leaf, garlic, shallots, and thyme to name a few.  You could also take a different route entirely and base the stew on Asian flavors like soy sauce, sesame, ginger and garlic, and mirin (Japanese cooking booze).

So here's my off the cuff version of Ox Tail stew  (I would like to point out here, that I used to have a tremendous aversion to Ox tails.  Always felt like it was too close to the business end of the cow for my taste.  I'm over it - I suggest everyone get over it...);

Oxtails - I used about 3 lbs with the intent to freeze a couple portions (if I can stop taking a bite every time I walk by)
1 can diced tomatoes - because they happen to be sitting on the counter
Beef stock - I happen to have a concentrate in the fridge, with just a spoonful left but any kind of stock is fine
Several cloves of garlic
Various herbs -   I used a mix called Herbs de Provance, added a bit of fennel, some cardamom and a handful of pepper corns.  

If you have temperature options, use high here if you intend to eat that night, low if you're planning on cooking overnight.

Depending on size of your slow cooker, pour in enough liquid to cover the bottom by about half an inch.  You don't want to fill the pot first because you risk over flow once you add other ingredient.  Well unless you like cleaning up messes in which case, have at it.

Add the rest of the ingredients - don't worry about the order, or mixing or blending, just add them evenly across container so everything gets seasoned.

That's it.  You're done.  Just walk away now and let it cook.  Depending on your slow cooker, you should be able to eat the ox tails in as little as four hours.  I let mine cook for 5 hours, then turned the heat down to low and let it go on over night (that's right, ox tails for breakfast! with a poached egg no less - think steak and eggs).

This brew is also a great place to add root vegetables - parsnips for example, whole onions, potatoes, carrots - thing of things that grow underground for this dish, hearty rib sticking veggies! (which I didn't add because they're high in carbs and I'm still being obnoxious about my diet.) Consider adding the veggies in the last hour to two hours to avoid having them dissolve completely in the stew.